Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Over the past few weeks we have had a flurry of requests for meetings to discuss potential marketing or PR campaigns for a number of different companies.    I like to think that this is a positive sign and that things are starting to improve, although it is clear from some of our discussions that many of these companies have very little spare cash to spend on marketing, but they really do need to get out there and do something – as I am always saying, no-one is going to come and knock on your door if they don’t actually know that you are there!

Now, I am not going to give away all of our trade secrets, but you really don’t have to spend a lot of money to see some results – after all, the most expensive marketing tools may not be tools that you, yourself, would use anyway (for example, even if I had a spare million or two, I would not be carrying out a TV or outdoor media campaign for JWA as this would not be the way for my company to target its potential clients!).

So what can you do that will cost very little, or even nothing at all?

First, look at the customers or clients that you have already and think whether you can find a way to get a bit more from them; are you selling them all the products or services that they need?  Getting new business from existing clients is a lot easier than finding new clients themselves.

Concentrate on the ‘walking billboard’ exercise that I am always banging on about; everyone in your team will have friends, husbands/wives, family, contacts, and it may be that they have never thought to try and sell your products or services to any of them.  Give them some guidance and motivation; but remember that they can also put people off (!) so get the training in first!  And never forget that people can sometimes see you, even if you can’t see them….

Communicate!!   Am I the only person in this town that is getting fed up with people not responding to emails or answering phones??  We have a rule in our office that every email must be answered that day – even if it is just to say ‘sorry, busy, get back to you’!   Jobs can be lost by not meeting deadlines, not answering emails, not calling back!  Jobs can be won by being the quickest and most charming person to respond to a request.

Get out there!  Give members of your team a target of attending x events a month and bringing back y number of business cards that they then follow up the next day.  Include ‘networking’ in your marketing plan and make sure that you stick to it.  

Direct mailing is not as bad as you might think, but my preference is to prepare a well-written letter/newsletter/postcard/whatever and then post it, rather than carrying out such a campaign on email.  We all get far too many emails and if they are unsolicited they can get ignored – it is much more difficult to ignore a nice letter or newsletter, especially if it includes some well designed material, that arrives on your desk.  And even if you don’t need what it is selling now, you might just revert to it at a later date.

Advertising – don’t fall over.  Advertising is not always as expensive as you might think, and magazines, in particular, are having a difficult time right now.  So they will do deals.  As will on-line media.  And remember the ‘little and often’ that I have mentioned before – a few banners on an on-line media outlet can be very effective and fairly low cost – much MORE effective than one big advert that runs for just one week.

PR – ah.  PR.  How many times do I hear that a company ‘wants to do some PR because it doesn’t cost anything’.  Hmm.  That is for next time.



Wednesday, 24 October 2012


When times are hard, it is not always easy to be involved in the marketing of a company, whether in-house or as an outsourced agency; marketing costs are the first to be slashed when companies are looking to save money, and marketing people are the first to be blamed when the sales slow-down.  There is not a lot that I can say about slashing costs – generally, when someone tells me that this is their strategy, I try to tell them that this is a dangerous course as marketing is probably the only thing that will bring them the sales that they need - but I also know that if it was my money, and it was running out, I would probably be slashing the costs too!  

I do, however, object when I hear that the reason why a company is not making its sales targets is down to its marketing strategy or marketing people – of course in some cases this is true, but in some that I have seen first-hand, it is a little bit different; in no small part because the marketing will only get people to the door and it is what happens when the potential client gets through that door that decides on whether the sale is going to be made; sometimes the pricing doesn’t work, and sometimes (quite often) it is down to the client’s customer service.

I have been involved in so many projects where the client is ready to spend quite a lot of money on its marketing, but is unaware of, or does not want to face up to, what sort of customer service potential clients are receiving when they contact the company.    I have had stand up fights with shop owners in shopping malls that we have worked on who insist that we should be doing more marketing, but do not realize that when their backs are turned the shop assistants are closing the shops and going for an all day coffee break!  I have argued until I am blue in the face with clients whose products or services are priced way out of the market and, consequently, whilst potential customers like what they are seeing, they are not ready to buy.  I have even run a promotional campaign where the client’s email address to which a potential customer had to respond was never answered, and another where the telephone and emails were mostly ignored and the welcoming committee in the client’s offices was just the rudest that I had ever met.
I know it all sounds very obvious, but before embarking on any sort of marketing or PR campaign, you really need to think about what a potential customer is going to find when they contact you; is your website up to date (OK, I know that most of us don’t much like our websites, but at least make sure it is reasonably OK) have you briefed your staff so that they know what you are promoting and will say the right things if they are asked?   Does your office, your people, and your general customer service approach meet with a potential client’s expectations?   I dare to say that it might not……

As my old boss used to say, ‘it is very difficult to win a client and very easy to lose one’ – so don’t spend all your spare cash on marketing only to let someone in your team lose a potential client because they haven’t been trained to close the sale. 

Monday, 25 June 2012


Before you embark on a marketing/PR campaign, you need to have a plan; I am a planning freak as I really believe that for something (anything) to be successful, there has to be a plan of attack. 

Our standard marketing/PR plan layout for all SME clients (the bigger companies have their own!) is a simple spreadsheet that lists all the possible activities down the side, and the days/weeks/months along the top (depending on how much activity you are planning – weekly is the most usual).    We usually have the activities listed in sections, so for a marketing client we would break it down under headings such as advertising, public relations, direct marketing, etc – even social activities can be included as this helps to act as a reminder that you need to get out there!

To fill in the plan, you need to have an idea of budget – and this can be anything you feel comfortable with; you don’t have to spend a fortune, and let’s face it, you are probably not going to go for some of the more costly items, such as TV or outdoor advertising (and if you are, then I would hope that you know how to plan for this already, otherwise you stand to lose a lot of money!).   And then you start to fill the plan in, taking into account the quieter times (July/August), peak times for your particular business – for example, if you are bringing out a new product or service you need to intensify what happens in the marketing build up around that time – Christmas, etc. 

You also need to think about one of my other pet topics; little and often – you don’t want to spend most of your money on one big event as that will only have a short-term effect.  So ensure that you spread the spend evenly through the year and across the activities, so that you get the ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect that I have mentioned previously.

Then there is another very important consideration.   KNOW WHO YOU ARE TARGETING!!   I put this in capital letters as I have had so many conversations in recent weeks – and can I just say that these have included with some senior marketing people in big firms – where it is quite clear that the marketing is being planned around who the company WANTS its customers to be, rather than who they actually are!

 Let’s say you have a very expensive product that is beyond the reach of most, especially the locals.  How can you possibly expect your marketing to succeed if your advertising, PR, direct mailing and so on is targeted only at local, average wage earners.. do you see my point? 

If you know who you are targeting and if you plan your marketing with the overall aim of achieving the ‘drip, drip, drip effect’, then marketing really does work.

Or does it?

More follows soon.


Thursday, 24 May 2012


I have lost track of the number of companies that we have met over the years that tell us that “they have tried marketing but it doesn’t work for their type of business”.  My answer is always that marketing works for everyone, irrespective of what the company does, and if they have tried it and it hasn’t worked, then that is because they are doing something wrong!

I discussed this a bit with a client today – a fairly typical SME client, where the person that we deal with is the boss and, in this case, the owner.   His view is that the majority of smaller companies have existed for however long with the owner/boss building the business from scratch, and until the financial crisis struck, that was pretty easy to do.   Nowadays, however, the market is much more competitive, and in order to remain successful, those same owners/bosses are having to do more than rely on word of mouth in order to keep going; the problem is that having built the business in the first place, they do not believe that they will need any help with ‘proper’ marketing, and try to do it themselves… with the end result that the whole thing fails.

I think that that is a fairly accurate assessment, but would add  a few other thoughts; one is that everyone thinks that they can do it, irrespective of their own training, secondly that there are no real ‘rules ‘ – well there are, but you don’t go to prison or get a fine if you break them – and third that, sometimes, marketing activities can seem like quite a lot of fun compared to a company’s regular day to day activities, and everyone wants to get involved.  Plus, of course, you have to spend money!   And if you are going to spend money, and it is your company, then you want to be involved in how it is being spent!

So if you are planning to embark on a marketing campaign, and want to do it yourself, let me give you a few pointers as a starter:

·         Little and often is much more effective than one big bang!

·         Prepare a plan that ensures that you have some activity on a regular basis – even if it is just attending a networking event, or organizing a business lunch – depending on time and budget, you want to be aiming for something to happen as often as possible – rather than everything to happen once!

·         Know who you are targeting with your marketing – don’t advertise in a magazine/online portal because they are offering you a fantastic deal or it belongs to your best friend – advertise in a magazine/online portal because it is read by all of your target clients!

·         Know what you want to achieve from your marketing – as I said in the article about PR, if the reason for promoting yourself is something other than sales, then make sure that what you are planning meets with that end result

·         Remember that marketing will only get people to your door; what happens when they go through the door is down to you!   All the marketing in the world will fail if your telephone is answered rudely, emails are never answered, staff are late to meet with the client, etc.  Plus, of course, if your pricing is wrong, you will never sell.

·         Networking – ah, now, that is an article in its own right.

There is a lot more to say, but hopefully this is enough as a start.  More will follow!


Monday, 30 April 2012

Public Relations - Start with the Basics!

PAt the risk of sounding boring and repetitive, can I just say that PR is NOT free advertising!  I have lost count of the number of people that have sat in our meeting room and said that they are thinking to embark on a PR campaign because it wont cost them anything, whereas advertising will.    PR is a whole skill in itself, and when carried out well it can be enormously effective.    However, as you will see as we go along, I am a big fan of the ‘drip, drip, drip’ approach to marketing/PR, and I think it is important that all of your different marketing tools work in tandem; so, in an ideal world, the PR supports the advertising, the advertising supports the website, the website supports the social media, and so on (and by drip, drip, drip, I mean that one day you read something about a company in the paper, a couple of days later you see an advert about the same company, a few days later you meet someone from that company, etc, etc, etc, until you appoint them!).

Sticking to PR for the moment, let’s look at what is involved and how best to do it: first, ask yourself what the purpose of the PR campaign is.  Now that might sound a bit strange, but it is a question that I always ask a new client before we get started, ever since I asked the boss of a big, international company here what he would regard as a success at the end of the campaign (assuming he would say ‘a huge number of sales’) and he responded ‘I want to see my photo in a magazine at least once a month’!  Knowing what you want to achieve from the campaign, will help you to define what you are actually going to do; if you want to see an increase in sales, your PR activity should focus on the business and trade media that relates to your products/services; if you want to see pictures of yourself every month, then you might want to talk to the media that will be interested in your hobbies and achievements.   You also need to be realistic – yes, we know that you would all like to be on the front page of Hospodarske noviny each week (imagine my surprise when one of our clients tells us that!) – but unless you are doing something that is headline news, you are probably going to be disappointed.

If you are prepared (and able) to write articles yourself on topics that are likely to be interesting to specific media, then it might be possible to get them published.  But before embarking on hours of drafting, it is worth doing a bit of research first; try and speak to the journalists at your targeted magazine/paper and find out the sort of stories that they would be interested in – better to write about something that they want, rather than what you want!  Similarly with interviews; some journalists are happy to do interviews (but there is no guarantee that such interviews will be published), but they are not going to interview you just because you want them to.  You need to come up with a good reason why you could be just the person that they want to speak to about a given topic… and then make sure that if you get the interview, you give them what they want.

Press releases.  No, not everyone can write a press release.  And yes, everyone will have an opinion (sorry to be rude, but I can often be heard to say that if you put a group of Czechs in a room and ask them to translate ‘please see attached’ the conversation will go on forever).  Quite honestly, if more people worried about the ‘substance’ of the PR rather than where a capital letter should or shouldn’t go, they might have more chance of getting it published!  PRs should be short (ideally one page), the first paragraph should grab the journalist immediately – what is it, when is it, why is it newsy – and you need to include in it a few ‘hooks’ that will ensure that a journalist that receives thousands of press releases on their desk each day, actually reads yours.  Once upon a time there was some research undertaken in the UK which asked what the most popular words were to have in a heading of a PR that would ensure coverage.  The words were David Beckham.  So use the David Beckham technique … try and get into your heading/first paragraph something that you know will grab the journalists immediate attention – more on that soon.

And finally….. don’t forget to monitor the media!!  Not much point in banging out press releases and organizing interviews if you never actually check whether something has been published (no, that is not a joke….!!).

More soon.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

An Idiot's Guide to PR

I have been asked to write a regular article on public relations for one of the English language portals here in Prague (  I thought it would be easy – maybe it will be once I get started properly - but coming up with a topic for the first article – i.e as an introduction – was a bit more complicated.  In the end I decided that the first ‘edition’ should be something along the lines of an ‘idiot’s guide to PR’.  Here is an excerpt.

1.    What does a PR agency do?

That might seem like a strange first question, but I have to say that a good percentage of companies that come to see us do not really know what a public relations agency does.  The difference between marketing/advertising and PR is not always understood, and it is  not unusual for someone to say that they need some help with public relations and then start talking about advertising and other marketing tools. 

Generally, I would say that the term ‘public relations’ relates to the tools that a company can use to promote themselves to the public generally through talking ‘through’ the media – whether print, on-line, radio, TV, etc.   Of course it is a lot more complicated than that, and I will talk more on the subject as we go along, but hopefully that is enough for starters.

2.   Do we [public relations agencies] ‘have contacts’ in the media?

You would be surprised how often a company asks us this, particularly since we have been in the business for more than 20 years!   Bearing in mind the definition above, it would be a little strange if we didn’t have contacts in the media.  However, see next point!

3.   Can we use our contacts to get an article/interview/press release onto the front page of whatever newspaper is requested?!

I am afraid that this is also a regular assumption, and, sadly, if it was that easy, no-one would need us (plus every paper would be full of rubbish - bear in mind that most journalists receive hundreds of press releases and interview requests every day!).   Having ‘contacts’ does, however, mean that we can discuss articles, releases, interviews with the journalists in question, etc, and, in turn, they can tell us what they are interested in writing about.  There are very few journalists that, just because they are friends, will automatically place something in the paper for us.

4.   Who is the best person to handle the public relations for a company?

Another frequently asked question, to which I usually respond ‘who is the best person to handle the accounting, legal, IT for a company?’  You wouldn’t normally trust these things to someone that has absolutely no experience in the field, so why trust your PR to such a person….?  But if you don’t have such a person, then use an agency, in the same way that you go to an external supplier for other professional services!

5.   Should we use a PR agency/person?  We don’t really have anything to talk about….

You may be surprised, but most companies/individuals think this, and actually they DO have something to talk about – but that is where the PR expertise comes in.   Nearly every company that we deal with worries that they don’t have enough interesting news to carry out a PR campaign, but then we start discussing what they get up to each day, and endless possibilities spill out.   

6.   I have tried doing some PR before but have not had any results, so why could an agency help?

Many smaller companies have told me this over the years.  And I always respond that PR always works… it is what has been done that doesn’t work!

I could go on… and in the next few articles I probably will.  But for now, I hope that the above is enough of a taster to start you thinking about how you might use PR to support your business, and then read on to see how you, yourself, can start to get results!


Wednesday, 28 March 2012


Earlier this week I spoke at a workshop for American MBA students that specialize in marketing.   Being of a certain age, I prefer to chat about life and work rather that talking my way through a power point presentation, and because the agency has been going for so long and we have seen so many changes, I usually talk about how PR and marketing worked in the early days after the fall of communism and then compare it to how things work now.

The students can never quite believe that when JWA first started we didn’t have computers, mobile phones, internet etc.. and actually, in Czechoslovakia when I first arrived, even calling out of the country from a landline was an all day challenge; but that is another story.     In this latest workshop, however, by the time I got to what we are doing today, I had had quite a few questions fired at me and I suspect that some of the students thought that I was making my whole speech up!
It was when I got to social media, and my general concern about the use of social media as a marketing tool, that they became the most incredulous; one of them even asked ‘if you don’t like social media, then what do you DO for your clients?’…. to which I responded, of course, that even twenty years ago we did actually manage to carry out marketing and communications campaigns, and a lot of what we do now is just a more developed version of what we did then.  She definitely didn’t believe that!

The thing is, as I keep on saying, we in the Czech Republic operate in a place where marketing and communication is still not widely understood, and where many companies would rather get someone from their own team - usually the most junior or least knowledgeable person (or, in the case of an SME, the boss will take it on themselves) - to ‘do’ the marketing, rather than spend any money on outside help, with the end result that it (marketing) doesn’t work.  And they never see that it is not the marketing that doesn’t work, but what they are doing. 
So imagine the damage that can be done when you give these same people a Facebook/YouTube/Twitter/whatever tool to play with – so much easier and cheaper to work with than, say, preparing a brochure or advert, or trying to get a press release written and published!!  And so much more damaging…

My friends are always surprised (amazed?) that I actually do know quite a bit about social media and in some clients’ cases we use it quite a lot; but we use it with extreme caution, using a copywriter to prepare the text and so on, and ensuring that what is being said is in line with the client's overall marketing strategy at all times.   But one thing you can be sure of.. you are never going to find me or anyone in our team posting photos or comments on Facebook or tweeting about what we had for breakfast, or any of the other things that I am now addicted to watching on my Blackberry!  And then wondering what on earth makes people feel the need to tell the world what they are doing at any time of the day or night?  Don’t they worry that people might think they have nothing better to do (for example work…??).  Or am I just anti-social?

Friday, 6 January 2012

Life in the PR lane

I subscribe to an on-line PR newsletter – it is American and it seems to me (being old and battered) that most of its readers are quite young and fairly new in the PR world, so I usually just scan it and think that they haven’t seen anything yet!

Today, though, there were a couple of very interesting postings; one was the result of an annual survey that ranked jobs based on stress levels. Apparently, last year PR came in as the second most stressful job of all, and there is now some disappointment that it has dropped down to seventh (below serving in the Military (!), firefighting, etc… oh and event coordinator! Blimey.)

The other posting that I liked, and that is a reaction to this survey, talks about the highs and lows of working in PR, which are listed as follows, with my own commentary in order to expand and explain a bit to any non-PR people reading this:

"I love the intensity of helping media connect with others and providing them with information for stories; I hate that if someone can’t come through on an interview, it’s my reputation on the line."

Jo: Don’t we just know this feeling! Never, ever, think that just because an interview has happened, it is guaranteed to be published. If you don’t give the journalist something interesting to write about, it aint going to happen!!

"I love the sense of accomplishment when I see a feature story on the front page of a top media target that I made happen; I hate when a client acts like it’s just an everyday story placement."

Jo: Ah, yes. Two months of persuasion and the article finally comes out.. only to be met by a question ‘what happened to the interview that you mentioned would be done for xxx?

"I love the sense of completion when all interviews are done and information is sent to the reporter; I hate the lack of control over the final product."

Jo: Note: if you don’t want to risk that a journalist gets something wrong, then don’t speak to them in the first place.

"I love helping a company clean up and simplify its message; I hate it when they don’t listen."

Jo: No comment.

"I love the peace of mind of having a crisis communications plan; I hate when a company doesn’t understand the value of drafting the plan until a crisis strikes."

Jo: And so say all of us!

"I love telling people I work in PR; I hate that no one outside of the industry understands just how difficult it is."

Jo: Anyone reading this now: we work in the seventh most stressful job in the world!!!! Feel for us!